Have you bought a book about Osama lately?

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Hold on a darn minute.

It was bad enough when a Washington Post columnist said Battle Mountain was the Armpit of America.

Now, the San Francisco Chronicle carries a front-page story this week that says Ely is so remote, Osama bin Laden probably couldn't even find it, let alone send a terrorist hit squad to bomb it.

"If there is one place in the nation so far away from anything that life carries on as normal, this is it," wrote Chronicle staff writer Kevin Fagan.

No anthrax. No National Guardsmen. No John Walker Lindh. Well, there may be somebody there with that name, but he probably didn't run off to Afghanistan to find religion and revolution.

No reporters from big-city newspapers hanging around, either, until recently. But the Chronicle sent somebody out to find a spot untouched by terrorism, and Ely was it.

The people interviewed tended to back up that observation.

"Nobody's ever asked for any books about Osama-bin-whatsit or any of those other fellers here, so I never ordered any," Faye Mullins, owner of the only bookstore in Ely, told the Chronicle reporter.

Another resident, 18-year-old Stephanie Hays, is quoted as saying "It sure would be exciting if something like terrorism happened here, but I'm glad it doesn't. We don't have gangs or even much crime here, and if it wasn't for TV we wouldn't know anything about all that stuff."

That's kind of my point. In fact, none of us would know anything about that stuff it it weren't for TV, or the Internet, or newspapers, or the telephone, or radio, or any of them other newfangled inventions.

Judging by the view from the outside world, one might even assume Ely residents still wouldn't know Abraham Lincoln was elected if the Pony Express hadn't come through town. And since the Pony Express ended a year later, one wonders if Ely residents have heard yet that Lincoln was assassinated.

Sheesh. Dumb ol' Nevadans. Don't they know there's a war on?

If I thought it was important, I would assign a reporter to go interview some of the folks hanging out along Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

You know the ones I mean. They're not reading the Chronicle; they're wearing it. They have a dog doing tricks so you'll drop a couple of quarters in a tin cup. It's OK, though, because they promise to share the wine with the dog.

"Hey, are you worried about Osama bin Laden sending terrorists to Fisherman's Wharf?"

"Can't have my spot."

"Excuse me?"

"This is my spot. I been here since 1972. Can't no terrorist have my spot."

"Have you bought any books about Osama bin Laden lately?"

"I quit reading after I graduated from Berkeley."

"Are you worried about anthrax?"

"Who's she?"

Maybe the reporter could visit some of the more remote parts of Sonoma County. After all, if the Chronicle can describe Ely as "the back of beyond," I'd like to know how it would describe some parts of California. "Beyond beyond" comes to mind.

The reporter stops at a vineyard.

"Do you think terrorists may target your winery?"

"Oh, yes. Claude and I are terrified. We have petitioned the California State Legislature for a law that would make wineries a top priority when it comes to national security. We believe the National Guard should be stationing troops at our front gate and frisking everybody. Simply everybody.

"After all, if the wineries go, what's next? Bottled water? It just makes me shudder."

"Have you bought any books about Osama bin Laden lately?"

"Is that one of the selections in Kelly Ripa's book club? Because I think she's just so knowledgeable. Don't you?"

"Are you worried about anthrax?"

"Oh, isn't everybody? But I've got a prescription from my dermatologist that will handle just about anything. I could get you some, if you want."

After venturing into California -- beyond beyond and back -- the reporter could return to Nevada and write one of those "mood" stories about America as it nears the anniversary of Sept. 11, summarizing that the residents of California are pretty much clueless as to the true significance of the terrorist threat all around them.

And not a one of them has bought a book about Osama bin Laden lately.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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